The Power of Our Network in Times of Crisis
Hineni (Here I am).
As Jews, we are ever cognizant of our responsibility to one another and to all of humanity – particularly during troubled times. Wherever and whenever there are anti-Semitic incidents, hate crimes, threats to human dignity, we show up. We respond from our hearts, offering comfort, material and financial support, and the solidarity of community.
Tree of Life Synagogue
This year, in the worst single anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history, 11 Jews were slaughtered during Shabbat services at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. How could this happen? The synagogue was purportedly targeted for “supporting immigrants.” Within minutes, Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) leaders were contacting synagogues in Pittsburgh to see how URJ could help.
Of course, the tragedy reverberated beyond that single Jewish community, forcing parents to
reassure children they would be safe, congregations to review emergency plans, and all of us to process feelings of disbelief, anger, fear, and more. As always, the URJ stepped up, offering resources for congregations, educators, and parents to deal with the tragedy. In partnership with the Conservative Movement, the URJ co-hosted "Songs for All of Us: After Pittsburgh," a Facebook Live event that offered music, prayer, healing, and community.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School
On February 14, 2018, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, 17 innocent people were killed in a mass shooting. One of the victims was Alyssa Alhadeff z”l, a URJ Camp Coleman camper. Initially, Coleman families raised a special wooden swing in Alyssa’s memory, but campers wanted to do more to help comfort the Parkland and URJ families affected by the tragedy. And so, the Tallitot Project was born.
Tenth-grade campers designed 17 tie-dyed tallitot (prayer shawls), one to represent each Parkland victim. Each tallit was inscribed with Moses’ prayer for Miriam – El nah rafah na (Please, God, heal her) – and the name of one of the URJ’s 17 camps. A tallit was sent to each camp to prompt an educational talk about gun violence prevention and to create a ritual.
On Rosh HaShanah, the 17 tallitot were brought to the two URJ synagogues closest to the site of the shooting: Congregation Kol Tikvah in Parkland and Temple Beth Orr in Coral Springs. In each community, young people and families affected by the tragedy were called forward and wrapped in the 17 tallitot – representing the spirit of thousands of URJ campers providing comfort and support. Now, eight tallitot live at each of the two synagogues; the 17th is in the high school’s archives.